LEXINGTON, Ky. – A season after suspensions and injuries derailed its chances at postseason glory, the Paul Dunbar High School boys basketball team got it right this time around.
Led by a trio of outstanding guards, the Bulldogs raced to a 15-2 lead and didn’t look back in a 61-52 victory over Doss on Sunday in the championship game of the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Sweet 16.
A crowd of 10,091 at Rupp Arena saw Paul Dunbar (33-6) back up its No. 1 spot in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings and capture its first state title. Paul Dunbar became the first public school from Lexington to win the title since Lafayette beat Male in the 2001 final.
All five Bulldogs starters were members of last season’s team that started 0-8 and finished 14-15 after losing in the semifinals of the 43rd District Tournament. But after a strong summer, expectations were high for Paul Dunbar entering the 2015-16 season.
“The difference is everybody stayed on track,” junior guard Taveion Hollingsworth said. “We did what we were supposed to do. We came to practice, didn’t miss anything. We had to come together as one and start playing together.”
Hollingsworth was the catalyst all season and earned Sweet 16 MVP honors after posting 20 points and eight rebounds in the final. Backcourt mates Darius Williams (15 points) and Jordan Lewis (nine points) also were solid, and 6-foot-5 center Dontell Brown chipped in 11 points and eight rebounds and carried a WWE-style championship belt over his shoulder during the postgame celebration.
No. 14 Doss (30-6) greatly exceeded preseason expectations to reach its first state final since 1980 but couldn’t overcome a slow start Sunday, shooting just 23.8 percent (5 of 21) in the first half.
“It seems like we were a little bit lethargic when we came out, and that makes sense,” coach Tony Williams said. “But I don’t want to take away from Dunbar and the way they came out swinging.”
While Doss missed nine of its first 10 shots, the Bulldogs were hot from the start. Hollingsworth scored seven points and Williams added four as Paul Dunbar led 15-2 at the 2:32 mark of the first quarter.
It was a sharp contrast to Paul Dunbar’s first three games of the tournament, in which it overcame slow starts by rallying in the second half.
“Finally,” Bulldogs coach Scott Chalk said. “We hadn’t had a good start like that in several games, so I was glad to see that. That took a lot of pressure off.”
The Bulldogs led 28-13 at halftime and took their biggest lead, 46-25, on Williams’ 3-point play with 7:40 left in the fourth quarter.
But the Dragons picked up their defensive pressure – forcing 14 second-half turnovers – and pulled within 55-44 on Nick Anderson’s 3-pointer with 2:39 remaining. After a Bulldogs turnover, the Dragons had a chance to pull closer but committed their own turnover.
A free throw by Lewis made it 56-44 with 2:27 left, and Williams sank a pair of free throws at the 1:52 mark for a 58-44 edge.
“I asked them to go out and – within the game of basketball – to fight for me if they really believed I’d fight for them,” Williams said of his halftime message. “They went out there and fought. We could have easily lost by 25 or 30 or worse. … They fought, and I can be proud of that.”
Kenyi Bryant scored 23 points, including 18 in the second half, to lead the Dragons. Kel’Shawn Knight-Goff added 11 points and three blocks before fouling out with 4:21 remaining.
Williams called it “an historic season” for Doss.
“We defied everything that everyone said about us and told us we couldn’t do,” he said. “People said we couldn’t win the Sixth Region. We had to do it. … Just understand and know that we’re coming back.”
Hollingsworth and Brown will be back next season, too, for the Bulldogs. But with five seniors set to depart, Hollingsworth said Sunday’s victory was somewhat bittersweet.
“It feels great, but at the same time I’m sad because all the seniors are leaving us,” he said. “It’s a good way to send them out.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Doss (30-6): Hargrove 4, K. Knight-Goff 11, Bryant 23, Hall 5, Maddox 2, Stokes 1, Anderson 5, Traynor 1.
Paul Dunbar (33-6): Williams 15, D. Brown 11, Lewis 9, Hollingsworth 20, Kelley 2, J. Brown 2, Homer 2.
3-point goals: K. Knight Goff, Bryant, Anderson; Hollingsworth 2.
MVP – Taveion Hollingsworth (Paul Dunbar).
All-tournament team – Darius Williams, Jordan Lewis (Paul Dunbar); Kel’Shawn Knight-Goff, Kenyi Bryant, Jaylon Hall (Doss); Jared Grubb, Caleb Taylor (South Laurel); Ben Weyer, Brennan Hall (Newport Central Catholic); Grant Williams (South Oldham); Quentin Goodin (Taylor County); Terry Taylor (Bowling Green); Ethan Clark (Murray).
Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches Larry Conley Ultimate Teammate Award – Ben Weyer (Newport Central Catholic).
Ted Sanford Award, sponsored by The Courier- Journal – Vincent Clark (Paul Dunbar).